Sam Kearney and Mjr Tom co-owner Nick Tiktikakis share a passion for dishes made with fresh ingredients and have a European approach to ensuring they secure the best produce they can. They go to the market every day and, although they have their favourite suppliers, they won’t settle for anything less than the best, which sometimes means shaking their heads and crossing the aisle.
What made you become a chef?
When I was younger I always toyed with the idea. My mum was always teaching me how to cook. She gave us extra pocket money to cook one night a week, which I later realised was just giving her a night off. I took to it and enjoyed it and later on in life, after seven years served at Woolworths, I decided to go and do my chefs apprenticeship and so I signed up and got a job. Actually I got a job with Harry (Tsiaples) at his other restaurant 11 odd years ago and that was the beginning of it.
You’ve done a bit of traveling too, haven’t you?
Just before I started working with Harry, when I was younger just after school, I’d done a trip from Morocco around to Turkey. That was a real eye opener and we enjoyed a lot of good food obviously. And when I started my apprenticeship, I decided that I’d work towards another big trip and sure enough when I was qualified, I’d saved a bit of money and went off over to Spain and I spent three years there.
So then having got your training and qualifications did you find that you were approaching what you were eating in a different way?
In another lifetime I did some dj-ing with friends and we always thought that it was a bit of a shame running a night because then when you go out to enjoy yourself, you nitpick at everything and it’s kinda the same when you go out and eat, but I’ve learned to overlook the things I’d have done differently, or maybe could have been done better, otherwise I find I don’t enjoy the whole experience as much as I could. But the approach to discovering new food and eating overseas was far more in depth, which I really enjoyed because when everything is new and exciting when you’re overseas and then to have your professional opinion and thoughts and ideas flowing, I found that really inspiring.
I guess too, Spain and other European countries have a different approach to eating and hospitality, don’t they?
Definitely. When I first got there, I didn’t know any Spanish and I’d spend the first part of the day working out what I was going to say at the bank or whatever it was and by about 1pm, I’d have something to eat and walk out the door ready to say my speech and everything was shut. Then I worked out that everyone was eating lunch for a couple of hours. And then when I finally got work and they’d give me a four-hour break in the afternoon; they really have a different approach to getting together and having a meal, which is nice.
And then in Spain they have some of the leading restaurants in the world with a modern approach so it’s a really nice mix, I thought, between the modern and the traditional.
Did you do any molecular gastronomy?
I touched on it in one place I was working at in Valencia called Ocho y Medio, and there was an Italian chef. It was a fine dining place where we were doing a lot of molecular gastronomy and that was really enjoyable and you learn a whole other world. I’ve touched on it back here with another guy I worked with. It’s not something I push a lot, but I really enjoyed doing it; it’s like going into the science lab and mucking around with food. It’s kinda cool. And eating it, without being behind it is a unique experience as well. You get some interesting things you don’t know what you’re eating.
Your menu here has had Asian influences and a lot of Latin influences. How does that work?
There’s not a strong Asian influence any more. We opened up with a couple of Asian influenced meals but we’ve narrowed it to a more Spanish/Latino vibe. Having said that, my sous chef Toby comes from a big Asian background of cooking and I don’t and whenever I have a query or we want to do something in that vein I always thro it over to Toby and he’s got some great ideas. I do like to take help and ideas from everyone around me and work as a team; take all the help I can get and expand my knowledge.
How else do you keep inspired and keep the freshness of your ideas coming through?
I try to read book as often as possible and go and get new books and eating out when possible and browsing new things on the internet.
Do you feel obliged to keep up with trends? Or can you do what you want to do?
I don’t get out as much as I’d like to, it’s a pretty tight schedule. So I wouldn’t say I have my finger on the pulse. The owner, Nick is a lot better at that. But I see what sells here and I notice what’s hot here at the moment and so I run with those things.
What is hot at Mjr Tom at the moment?
Tostadas are doing well. We do little arepas, which are little cornbread things, basically another form of tostada. They seem to be popular with nice toppings. We’re doing a starter with plaintain and confit duck with vegetables through it. Croquetas are also popular so we always come up with a new croqueta. The paellas are always popular. I came back from Spain with that. It’s a great dish. We do our own house made sausages; chorizo, they do well. And the staff always get behind our specials and push those along too.
108 Smith Street